Big L’s Unfinished Business

A look at Big L's legacy.

Read More: Village Voice

 

A respected producer and rapper with a knack for crafting rugged but funky beats, Lord Finesse heard Big L rhyming over loops of songs by Otis Redding and the Emotions in Rock 'N' Will's record store on 125th Street. Taken by his cocksure confidence and ability to coin animated punchlines, Finesse invited him to the studio to appear on a remix of his 1992 single "Yes, You May." It was as if a stick of rap dynamite had been lit.
 
"We saw him in the studio and were like, 'This kid is ill!' " recalls DJ Premier, who produced songs on Finesse's debut album, Funky Technician, and whose group Gang Starr's "Full Clip" has become the official Big L tribute. "Then he did 'Devil's Son' with [producer] Showbiz and we were like, 'What the fuck is wrong with this kid? He's demented!' "
 
Big L could hold his own lyrically with the era's two breakout stars, the Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z. The latter even features on "Da Graveyard" from L's debut, delivering a performance remarkable only for sounding like he's enunciating rhymes as if walking barefoot over hot coals. But Biggie had Puffy behind him, and for every street-centric song ("Warning," "Unbelievable") there was a saccharine commercial equivalent ("Juicy" and the "One More Chance" remix, which sampled the same break as L's own "M.V.P."). As hip-hop folklore is fond of relaying, after recording a scrupulously underground ode to the tensions of the drug game with Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Z lucked out at the last minute by including the radio-friendly "Ain't No Nigga" with Foxy Brown. Jay's astute ear for crossover sounds has blossomed ever since. But Big L aligned himself with the Bronx-based Diggin' in the Crates (D.I.T.C.) production unit—a move that guaranteed him unimpeachable hip-hop credibility but little likelihood of a mass hit.
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Big L’s Unfinished Business
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  • date: Thursday 18 November 2010

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